Two long-term planning documents for Petersburg will be under-going several more months of review and public comment. Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday signed off on a schedule of public hearings for a draft comprehensive plan and waterfront master plan.
The comprehensive plan looks land use in the new borough, starting up just its fourth year of existence. The document also discusses budget realities, economic development possibilities, transportation issues and infrastructure needs.
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Consultants from the Anchorage firm Agnew Beck are writing the comprehensive plan for the borough and presented final drafts to the assembly earlier this month. The company’s Chris Beck explained the document does carry some legal authority for the intentions of the borough. But he said the comprehensive plan does not set out specific actions for the assembly. “So the language by the design is general,” Beck said. “It’s future oriented. It sets intention. It does not tie the hands in very many cases on specific actions you could take, or the specific constraints placed on a private land owner.”

The draft comprehensive does make some specific recommendations that the assembly could tackle in the future. Those include expanding the local seafood industry, improving access for small cruise boats and other visitors and encouraging small timber sales for local sawmills.

Beck explained to the assembly the plan also recognizes Petersburg’s quality of life as important for the local economy. “Having that suite of amenities, the yoga class, the dance class, the activities after school, all those things turn around and support the whole economy,” he said. “So finding the way to balance the provision of those with the realities that we’ve laid out in those other slides is one of the themes of this whole document.”

The plan recommends frugality in providing local public services and encourages public private partnerships where possible. It also says the borough could use the skills and resources of the growing population of older residents. Another recommendation is to improve communication with more remote residents of the borough along with increased transparency for the finances of the local government. The plan recommends the borough adopt a generalized land use map and extend subdivision authority to the entire borough.

At this week’s assembly meeting, assembly member Bob Lynn questioned how the comprehensive plan fit with information put out during the lead up to borough formation. “In the public testimony and in the follow up responses to public comment, there was promises made, to the people outside service area one,” Lynn said. “How do you see those playing into this because I, reading the document, I see some of those promises anyhow thrown out the window.”

Service area one is within the boundaries of the old city of Petersburg and Lynn has voiced opposition to extending zoning authority borough wide. The land use map in the document could pave the way for that discussion to start.

The borough community development director Liz Cabrera responded to Lynn. She said the planning document doesn’t establish that power. “Again, it’s, you pass a document, it doesn’t create zoning in any way. It just has a general intent and if you read the language that’s in the plan it says you should consider zoning. So what they’re saying is you know most places have some type of land use within their boundaries, you should think about doing that and what some of the benefits are of doing that within the borough and outside of service area one.”

Besides the comprehensive plan, the consultants also drafted a waterfront master plan. That lists needs for the harbor department, examines the condition of local docks and floats and recommends the borough look into acquiring some more waterfront property.

The proposed schedule has the borough taking public comment on the two plans into early next month and then beginning a series of hearings. The planning commission and harbor board would hold public input sessions in mid-January and a joint hearing and work session on the waterfront plan. In February the planning commission would hold a final hearing and make a recommendation to the borough assembly on whether or not to approve the documents along with suggested changes. Then it would be up to the borough assembly to vote on the two plans in late February and March. The assembly approved that schedule unanimously on Monday.

The documents are available on the borough’s website.